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From Thongs to Tuxedos: A Cruise Clothing Primer

Our cruise experts dish about too-revealing bathing suits, topless beaches, hot legs competitions, packing tuxedos, and more essential cruise fashion advice.

One of the problems with being a new dad in wintertime is that the incentive to spend what few off-duty hours you have in front of the TV (rather than, say, doing aerobics) is very, very strong. Then you begin to contemplate summer. At some point, you know that you'll be on a ship in the Mexican Riviera or the Caribbean and you'll have to put on a bathing suit, and maybe even take off that ever-so-slimming black t-shirt. You start to panic.

But then, you begin to remember some of the other folks you've seen half-naked on cruise ships over the years, and you strike up an e-mail conversation with your writing partner about it.

Matt: Yo, Heidi, seen any good flesh lately?


Heidi: Ha! You wouldn't believe some of the suits I've seen, especially on the gals. On Regent's Seven Seas Navigator they came with gold trim and were matched to coordinating earrings and sandals. On Carnival they were total TMI suits -- yeouch. Take those off!

Matt: What's TMI?

Heidi: "Too much information." Duh.

Matt: Ah so. But wait, you want them to take their suits off?

Heidi: Uh ...

Matt: OK, start over.

Heidi: Well, I'd say there are two types of bikini-wearers aboard cruise ships. There's the you-go-girl types who squeeze a ton of flesh into a few little triangles of suit and there's the too-perfect types with the fake you-know-whats filling out those same little triangles. Maybe I'm just a square, but what happened to taste?


Matt: Hey, it's the Age of Aquarius, baby. Let it all hang out. My favorite bikini story was a few years ago in the Caribbean. I'd taken one of those booze-cruise excursions that includes a couple hours of beach time. Lots of the women were taking off their tops. This one 50-ish woman near me obviously wanted to. As soon as her husband went in the water she sat up all casual and sort of let it fall to her waist. Then she got nervous and pulled it back up. Looked around again. Let it drop. She did that for about ten minutes. On, off, on, off. Probably the biggest thrill of her life.

Heidi: And you were staring at her the whole time?

Matt: Never. Purely anthropological observation. "Cultural Practices of the Vacationing North American."


Heidi: Anyway, I remember this little old coot on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas in the Med a few years back. Halfway through the men's sexy legs contest by the pool, he limped over -- and mind you, one of his legs was a lot shorter than the other -- and asked the cruise director if he could join. She tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted. You should have seen him, grinning like a leprechaun in his bright purple trunks, posing and primping with the rest. Weirdddddddd ...

Matt: It's a formula: Get on cruise ship, lose inhibitions. Ages ago, I was out on the old Enchanted Capri of Commodore Cruise Line. It had a lounge right below the pool, and there were windows cut so you could see the swimmers. I was talking to a woman from Texas who'd been aboard before. "See those windows?" she said. "That's where my friend Bayard mooned everybody. His wife was soooo mad."

Heidi: I seem to recall you've lost your inhibitions once or twice.


Matt: Nope. Not once. Not ever. I'm Irish, remember? We keep everything bottled up till we pop. Ask my wife.

Heidi: Like you said, though, there's something about a cruise ship that just sucks all sense of decorum right out the door. Like what some people consider formalwear. I've seen some really scary bridesmaid dresses ...

Matt: I've got you beat. I once saw a woman shimmy up the water slide on a Royal Caribbean ship wearing her wedding dress and high heels.

Heidi: Get out, you're lying!

Matt: Hand to god.


Heidi: In all fairness, there are also some pretty nicely dressed people too. Some men look pretty yummy in a tux. Though fewer and fewer guys seem to be bothering with them.

Matt: Know why? Because you have to pack almost a whole extra suitcase just to bring them: jacket, trousers, tux shirts, suspenders, cummerbund, high-gloss shoes, shirt studs, cufflinks -- it's ridiculous.

Heidi: That's one of the few places women have it easier. All I need are a couple of black Lycra things, a skirt or two, and a dress. I roll 'em up in ball, cause they don't wrinkle, and shove them into the corner of my suitcase. Takes no space at all. Now you, you could rent a tux on the ship, you know.


Matt: Nah, I'd feel like I was going to the prom. Besides, I really just prefer casual. I haven't packed my tux for a cruise in at least four years. The dark suit works just fine -- wear it with an open-collared shirt on informal nights, then add a tie and poof! It's formal.

Heidi: Now wait, you couldn't get a date for your prom, could you?

Matt: Au contraire, the smartest girl at my school asked me.

Heidi: Yeah, alright, whatever. But me, I sort of like getting all dressed up once in a while, and a cruise is the perfect place to do it. In fact, when I shop, I keep an eye open for "cruise clothes." Where else can I wear a low-cut dress with gold threads running through it, or some sheer, billowy sort of thing?


Matt: "Cruise clothes"? Yikes. And I used to think you were cool.

Heidi: No way, pal, I'm hot, hot, hot!

Matt: Which brings us back around to my bathing suit problem. Any advice?

Heidi: Pilates. And put down that bottle of beer.

Matt: Right. Thanks.

Heidi: And feed that baby while you're at it. Don't you hear him yowling?

Matt Hannafin and Heidi Sarna have been arguing and bantering about cruise ships since 1997, among other places in ten annual editions of the guidebook Frommer's Cruises & Ports of Call.


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